Third time was indeed the charm for Nebraska’s mainline budget bill.Now that a compromise on Title X, federal funding for reproductive health care, has been reached and a filibuster broken, the Nebraska Legislature advanced the most imperative piece of legislation of its short session to the final round of approval.
In the end, compromise won out, and the budget can progress. But the ultimate accord should leave nobody happy, even if it will be trumpeted by some as a victory.
Gov. Pete Ricketts needlessly politicized the budget — leading to two failures to end a filibuster before Wednesday’s night success — by injecting policy where it didn’t belong. Rather than using the state budget to advance a policy goal, he should have leaned on the normal legislative process to achieve that end.
Had the governor simply persuaded a senator to carry a separate bill with the exact same language, he wouldn’t face this criticism. By tying it to the mainline budget, though, Ricketts forced senators to accept a compromise to fund Title X services — and the rest of state government, frankly — on his terms, barring a change on final reading.
The collateral damage inflicted by this action was as brazen as it was needless.
The Nebraska Legislature has demonstrated a willingness to tackle the divisive social issue of abortion several times over the years. In every instance before this, the vehicle for that discussion was standalone bill that followed the normal channels any social policy proposal would. Why was that process suddenly insufficient?
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As opponents noted Thursday in a Local View, a 1976 attorney general’s opinion found it “very questionable whether an appropriations bill may contain language which does not relate to the appropriate purpose of the act.”
Preventing any clinic that referred for abortions from receiving the federal Title X funds disbursed by the state is a matter of policy. In that vein, it’s similar to familiar stumbling blocks such as education and corrections. While prisons and schools receive state appropriations, their missions and overarching principles are contained in other pieces of legislation.
The strategy employed by the governor was clearly a shot at tackling a major social issue — defunding Planned Parenthood. No doubt it will be invoked during this fall’s election, considering how Ricketts named detractors who “obstructed” the budget for “putting vital state services for our children at risk” before the filibuster was ended.
But this approach inappropriately married a issue to the broader — and vital — state budget.
Nebraskans elected their senators to write the laws and the governor to do his part in carrying them out. By turning to the nuclear option of ramming Title X language through via the mainline budget bill, Ricketts has blurred the lines between the legislative and executive branches in an unacceptable manner.